Should Cars Be Banned From Cities? — The Answer Might Surprise You

Many municipalities worldwide are exploring banning cars from cities — at least in the inner city portion where the population density is greatest. Also, some cities have already taken steps to ban private cars on specific streets. Recently, San Francisco banned cars from Market Street, a previously busy thoroughfare. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of banning cars from cities.

What does it mean to ban cars from cities?

Empty street in New York City, highlighting whether or not cars should be banned in cities
Empty street | Nicholas Swanson via Unsplash

First off, banning cars from cities doesn’t mean banning all vehicle traffic. For municipalities that are evaluating the issue, this means banning only private cars, taxis, and rideshares such as Uber and Lyft. Also, there would be mass transportation available to use, such as buses, trains, and subways. 

Furthermore, the car ban would be just for the inner city. People would still be able to access the outer portion of cities with a car. Once reaching the inner city, they would park their car (or get dropped off by a taxi or rideshare) and then either walk or use mass transportation.

Banning cars from cities would reduce air, noise, and light pollution 

Empty cobblestone street, highlighting whether or not cars should be banned in cities
Empty street | Nicholas Swanson via Unsplash

A major advantage of banning cars from cities is that it improves the environmental conditions in multiple ways. Cities might eventually have mostly zero-emission electric cars. However, for now, gas-powered cars are the dominant type of vehicle — and with their emissions, they significantly contribute to pollution and poor air quality. Additionally, the reduction of carbon emissions by a car ban in cities would slow down climate change and the negative effects of global warming.  

Along with making it harder to breathe, air pollution from cars has negative health consequences, including increasing your risk of asthma, lung cancer, and heart and cardiovascular disease. In some cities around the world, the air pollution is so bad that breathing the polluted air for a day is is the equivalent of smoking a packet of cigarettes.

On top of the air pollution, cars, especially gas-powered ones, create a great deal of noise pollution. This results in a less aesthetically pleasing environment and makes it harder to sleep. Also, noise pollution has negative health consequences. Recently, researchers at Rutgers’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School published a study on the connection between car noises and heart and cardiovascular ailments for New Jersey residents.

Another type of pollution created by cars is light pollution. This can be an annoyance and affect the sleep quality of residents, especially if they live close to a street where headlights shine in their windows at night.

Additional environmental and health benefits of a car ban in cities

A car ban in cities would also help natural ecosystems. Municipalities would be able to create more parks and green spaces, which would enable flora and fauna to flourish. It would also help to address the endangered species problem. Plus, the added parks and green spaces would be beneficial to humans, with a healthy natural environment and good places to relax.

From another health standpoint, banning cars from cities would result in more people walking. Consequently, more people would be fit and experience the health benefits of exercise. 

An additional environmental benefit of a car ban is there would be more investment in green technology. Banning cars would result in a greater incentive for people and companies to invest in green technology since there likely would be a bigger return on their investment.  

Other benefits of banning cars from cities

The advantages of banning cars from cities go far beyond the environmental and health benefits. This includes:

  • Added space for restaurants and other businesses
  • Added space for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Fewer injuries and deaths from car accidents
  • People would spend more time in inner cities.
  • Kids would have more opportunities to play outdoors.
  • Without the isolation of cars and more space to congregate, people might spend more time together.

Disadvantages of a car ban in cities

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For a balanced look at the issue, it’s only fair to look at the disadvantages of banning cars from cities. This includes:

  • Many taxi and rideshare drivers would lose their jobs, as detailed by Environmental Conscience.
  • For many people, it would be less convenient and take more time to travel.
  • It would also be more challenging to travel for some people with mobility issues.
  • Public transportation would be more crowded.
  • With more crowded public transportation, the spread of disease would be more likely.
  • With higher demand for properties, home and apartment prices would increase.
  • It would make it more difficult to commute to a city. 
  • There would be some challenges with deliveries.
  • For people that live in rural areas, there would be more social isolation.
  • Streets in the outer portions of the city would be more crowded.

As you can see, it’s a “mixed bag” regarding a ban on cars in cities. There are many advantages and disadvantages. It’s interesting that some municipalities are taking a close look at the issue — and it could be a viable option in the distant future. However, for now, a partial ban on cars on select streets or regions of a city, like on Market Street in San Francisco, could provide a happy medium. 

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